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What is the Difference Between Maca and Tribulus?

By Paul Woods
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Maca and tribulus are plants used as the basis for alternative medical treatments, primarily to increase sexual desire and performance. The key differences between maca and tribulus center on the type of plant each is, where each grows best and the reported effectiveness of medicines derived from them. Maca is a Peruvian tuber-type plant with a bulbous edible root, similar to a radish, which grows best in higher, colder conditions. Tribulus is a flowering vine-like plant that grows best in arid climates, even in desert regions. Limited clinical studies appear to indicate that maca may be more effective than tribulus in increasing sexual desire.

Peruvians have cultivated maca for about 2,000 years. The plant grows particularly well in the high reaches of the Andes mountains. It was long used both as a food staple and a crop for trade. Local legends say Incan warriors would take maca prior to battle because it enhanced their strength, and the warriors then had to be kept away from the women of conquered cities because the root also increased their sexual desire and virility. Extract of the maca root is now widely available commercially in capsule form.

Tribulus is a low-growing vine with a spiny fruit used in making a medicinal extract. Also known as Tribulus terrestris, the plant contains a naturally occurring steroid-like substance thought to enhance a range of physical activities, including sexual performance. Popular for centuries in China, it has gained wider use in the West along with rising interest in alternative medicine. It is widely available in tablet form.

Both maca and tribulus have been the subject of limited clinical studies. Two studies, for example, using control groups taking maca and a placebo appeared to indicate an increase in sexual desire, with one of the studies showing an increase in sperm count. A study of Bulgarian athletes reportedly documented enhanced athletic performance from taking the herb; however, those results have not be confirmed by additional testing.

Maca and tribulus exhibit limited but different side effects. Tribulus is said to cause enlarged breasts in men and can cause increased menstrual bleeding in women. It is not recommended for pregnant women or nursing mothers. The stimulant properties of maca can produce anxiety. It is a good idea to check with a knowledgeable health practitioner before using either substance.

Both maca and tribulus are known by alternative names. Maca often is called the Ginseng of Peru, although it is not related to that plant. The technical name for maca is Lepidium meyenii. Tribulus is known as the puncture vine, due to the small spines on the fruit.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Sep 23, 2013

@literally45-- I think the effects and side effects of both are related to the specific product. Not all supplements are the same. Some are more potent, and they can be made from different parts of the plant.

From my experience, maca seems to be better for general health and strength and tribulus for sexual desire.

Maca's side effects are almost nonexistent but tribulus usually causes problems. It might be high blood pressure, prostate problems or hormonal changes.

By literally45 — On Sep 22, 2013

Tribulus and maca herbs are similar in terms of effects but the side effects seem to be different like the article said. For example, I experienced hair growth with tribulus, which is something I've never had with maca.

By candyquilt — On Sep 21, 2013

I've taken both tribulus and maca supplements in the past, mainly for body building benefits. Tribulus and maca are said to increase testosterone production which is related to strength and sexual performance.

Both maca and tribulus improved my sexual function. I think they can be used in moderation to counter the side effects of steroids in body building. Steroids tend to kill the libido.

But I have not experienced better strength or more muscle mass from these herbs. I think they're kind of disappointing. Tribulus is more disappointing than maca.

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